Common driving offences in the UK

9 Driving Offences You May Not Know You’re Making

Police speed gun

We all try our best to be safe on the roads, but are you unknowingly being unlawful?

To get a better idea of how well UK drivers know the rules of the road, we conducted a survey with over 12,000 drivers quizzing them on driving laws and asking if they’d ever, knowingly or not, broken any of them. The results suggest that a lot more awareness is needed when it comes to the ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ of driving. Many of these offences can happen to you through other drivers being unaware of the laws – find out more by reading on.

  • Over half of UK drivers we surveyed have committed a driving offence without realising
  • 45% of surveyed drivers don’t realise that splashing a pedestrian can result in a fine
  • 61% of surveyed drivers don’t realise that cursing and offensive gestures can lead to fines of up to £1,000


In this article:

Most common driving offences
9 Unknown driving offences
Implications for road safety


54% of UK drivers surveyed don’t realise they’ve committed a road offence

You may think you know precisely what counts as a road offence and what doesn’t, but shockingly, over half of the drivers we surveyed have broken the law without knowing it.

Our survey found that most driving offences were committed in the Yorkshire and Humber region, with 58% of drivers doing so without even realising. Males are also more likely to make these serious driving errors, with 58% guilty of committing offences versus 47% of women.


What are the most common driving offences?

Driving offences fall into two categories: dangerous driving and careless or inconsiderate driving. While the latter may not seem quite as serious, they can quickly lead to dangerous situations that put not only the driver and passengers at risk but also fellow road users including pedestrians.

Dangerous driving

Dangerous driving covers some of the most common and well-known offences but knowing it’s unlawful doesn’t seem to stop some drivers – 99% of us know speeding is an offence, but 55% of drivers still admit to having done so in the past.

These sorts of offences include:

  • Speeding and racing
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication
  • Driving with an injury that prevents you from having full control of the vehicle
  • Ignoring traffic lights and road signs
  • Knowingly driving a vehicle that isn’t roadworthy
  • Knowingly overloading a vehicle until it’s unsafe on the road
  • Texting while driving
  • Taking a phone call while driving

It may also come as a surprise to some to learn that the following also count as dangerous driving:

  • Reading or looking at a map while driving
  • Lighting a cigarette
  • Tuning the radio or selecting music
  • Looking at a passenger while talking to them

While most of these are well-known as big no-nos, some drivers may dismiss others as a risk worth taking. Driving when hungover, for example, can still mean you’re over the legal limit. Or ignoring traffic signs on an otherwise empty road is still an offence.

Careless or inconsiderate driving

These sorts of offences generally mean a driver isn’t giving the road the required level of attention and not considering the safety of other road users. These include:

  • Driving too close
  • Overtaking on the inside
  • Dazzling drivers with too-bright headlights
  • Staying in the overtaking lane unnecessarily
  • Turning into the path of another vehicle
  • Deliberately turning your attention from the road e.g., to tune the radio or light a cigarette
  • Driving too slowly
  • Driving through a red light even if it was a genuine mistake

Only 8% of surveyed drivers admitting to using a phone while driving, and while that may sound low, that still accounts for around 3 million people.


9 unknown driving offences

So, you may be aware of the offences that come under dangerous and inconsiderate driving, but how about the little-known offences that can still land you in hot water? With so many of us unintentionally breaking these laws every day, here are some lesser-known road rules you should be aware of:

1. Cursing or making rude gestures at drivers

Penalty: A fine of up to £1000 for ‘disorderly conduct’

Plenty of us may realise this isn’t exactly polite behaviour, but 61% of drivers don’t realise that it is, in fact, a driving offence. And 22% of drivers admitted to being guilty of it in the past. There are several reasons why engaging in road rage is a bad idea, fine or not, as it places you in an emotional state and unable to think straight, which lessens your concentration.

2. Splashing a pedestrian with a puddle

Penalty: A fixed penalty notice of £100, increasing to £5,000 if the case goes to court, or if the driver was found to have acted with clear aggressiveness

Another example that many drivers may simply consider bad manners but not an offence is splashing pedestrians with a puddle. Almost half of us (45%) don’t realise that it could lead to a hefty fine, though 93% of drivers do admit to feeling guilty if they ever do accidentally splash a nearby walker.

3. Beeping your horn whilst stationary (where no danger is present)

Penalty: A fixed penalty notice or an on-the-spot fine of £30, increasing to £1,000 if you fail to pay

Your horn isn’t there to help you voice your anger, but to make other drivers aware of you when you’re in motion. It’s not to be used when you’re stationary and not in danger – that would be an offence. Not that most drivers realise it, in fact, only 45% do, and 7% did admit to using the horn out of anger.

4. Driving with an unsecured pet in your vehicle

Penalty: A fixed penalty notice or on-the-spot fine of £100, increasing to £5,000 if you fail to pay

Driving safely isn’t just about the humans in your car, unknown to 42% of drivers, it’s an offence to not ensure your furry friends are secured in the vehicle. The highway code defines this as being ‘suitably restrained’, in most cases this will mean keeping pets in carry crates or specially designed pet seats that include restraints.  

5. Flashing your headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps

Penalty: A maximum fine of £1,000

Almost half of drivers don’t realise this gesture of warning their fellow road users is actually an offence. 20% of drivers admitted to doing it in the past, not realising that this can be interpreted as an attempt to “wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of their duty” and a hefty fine.*

6. Beeping your horn between 11.30pm and 7am in a built-up area

Penalty: A fixed penalty notice or on-the-spot fine of £30, increasing to £1,000 if you fail to pay*

23% of drivers didn’t realise that their horns essentially have a curfew. According to The Highway Code, it’s an offence to use your horn in a built-up area during the nocturnal hours, unless there is a genuine hazard. These built-up areas include any road with streetlights and a 30mph speed limit.

7. Driving with an excess of passengers in your vehicle

Penalty: An on-the-spot fine of £500 increasing to £5,000 if the case goes to court

Fortunately, most of us know this is a serious issue to be avoided when driving, although our survey showed that 10% of drivers were not aware. Driving with too many passengers poses several risks, including a lack of seatbelts, an obscured view out the rear window, and an overload of weight in the vehicle.

8. Not leaving contact information after hitting a parked vehicle

Penalty: A fine of up to £5,000 and points on your licence

70% of motorists surveyed have been on the receiving end of this one, with 85% of those being left without any contact information for those responsible. Supermarket car parks are the most common location for this offence, with 60% of the above cases occurring here. Driving off without leaving contact information counts as a hit and run and if you’re later tracked down via witness testimony or CCTV you could face several points being added to your licence as well as a fine.

9. Throwing litter from your vehicle

Penalty: An on-the-spot fine of £150

An unpleasant habit that’s bad for the environment as well as potentially dangerous to other drivers, throwing rubbish out of your car is an offence and one that 9% of drivers surveyed didn’t know about. Throwing litter from your car can cause it to fly into the windscreen of other drivers, obscuring their vision and endangering them and those around them. So, if you have any rubbish, keep it safely in your vehicle and dispose of it in the latest bin once you’re safely parked up.


Implications for road safety

Whether you knew the above offences or not, it’s important that every driver on the road is fully aware of the rules that surround driving. A lack of understanding from even one driver can impact the safety of every other vehicle and pedestrian they share the road with and the people and pets they have in their car.

So, it’s important that you take the time to refresh your knowledge of what is and what isn’t safe and acceptable on the roads, no matter how long you've been driving. This also means being accountable for the decisions of passengers in your car. For example, if a child in your car isn’t wearing a seatbelt, even if their parent is a passenger who allows it, it will be you, the driver, who will be fined.


Stay safe, stay covered with The AA

Driving offences aren’t just a sure-fire way to earn a hefty fine, they can also lead to damage to your vehicle, increasing the risk of breaking down later on. Make sure you’re always prepared for the worst with breakdown cover from the AA.



There were 12,225 responses to the AA Yonder May survey between 16th and 23rd May 2023.